The Appalachian Trail (AT) travels 72 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
On the southwest end, where most AT hikers start, the trail crosses into the park at Fontana Dam, ascends up to its highest point at Clingmans Dome and back down in elevation in the northeast area of the park where it exits at Davenport Gap. Along the way, the trail only crosses one road at Newfound Gap. After you exit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, head to the nearby town of Hot Springs for a nice soak after the hike.
It takes an average of seven days to hike the full route, or you can start midway at Newfound Gap to reduce the distance by half.
Want to visit Clingman’s Dome without the long AT hike? It’s relatively easy, although a bit steep, on a half-mile paved trail from the Clingmans Dome parking lot to the observation tower at the top.
AT Camping Shelters in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky backcountry hikers are required to camp only in designated campsites or at one of the 15 AT shelters in the park. Since the shelters have recently been refurbished, many now have moldering privies and water sources nearby. The chain-link bear fences have been removed so be sure to cook and eat far from the shelters to keep bears away.
Reservations are required for Great Smoky AT shelters. To qualify for an AT Thru-Hiker Permit, you must begin and end your hike at least 50 miles outside of the national park and only travel on the AT in the park. Hikers not meeting this definition should apply for a General Backcountry Permit. For trip planning help, call the backcountry office at 865-436-1297. Don’t get caught without a permit; the fines are steep.
Need a map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Great Smoky at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, geologic history and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.